Tips for successful "College Visits 101".Parents of high school juniors everywhere are gearing up to hit the road over spring break to visit colleges of interest to their teenagers. While families can get a tremendous amount of valuable college information online, even in today's Internet age, there is no substitute for an in-person visit to get a true feel for an institution and its campus and students.
Organizing a college tour road trip can be a daunting task for parents. Which schools should be visited? How many? How do you make the most out of a campus tour?. Richard Bavaria, senior vice president of Education Outreach for Sylvan Learning, Baltimore, Md., "schools" parents and students in his "College Visits 101" top 10 tips for organizing a spring break college road trip:
Cast a wide net. Put together a big list of potential schools of interest--up to 20--for further investigation and research. Consider a wide range of selection criteria, such as geographic location, rural/suburban/urban campus setting, size of student enrollment, religious affiliation, academic strengths and offerings, and athletic programs, among others. Include a range of "dream" "target" (strong odds of acceptance based on your teen's test scores, GPA, etc.), and "safety" schools.
Finalize target tour list. Once you have an initial pool of possibilities, narrow that list to a more realistic number--those that meet the criteria for your teen and family. Fine-tuning your list largely can be done by visiting schools' websites, reviewing college guides from the library or bookstore, and working with your child's school guidance counselor. Other students, friends, and family members also can offer invaluable insights.
Get SAT/ACT test prep support. If you take a school off of the final target list because your son or daughter's SAT or ACT test scores are not in that school's typical accepted range--or you are afraid they will not be--consider obtaining test preparation support.
Visit while college is in session. Do not go during midterms or finals and avoid weekend visits, since classes are seldom held then. Be sure to call ahead to check on tour times, dates offices are closed, and visiting and interviewing policies. If spring proves problematic because your target schools have spring break the same week your child does, fall of senior year also is an ideal time to visit.
Remember the 2/2/2 rule. Do not try to visit more than two schools a day. At each, there should be a two question limit for parents. Given that most teens find their parents embarrassing under any circumstances, they especially are sensitive to mom or dad asking numerous questions on the campus tour. Focus on safety and financial aid. Speak with at least two professors or students from your teen's intended major. Now is the time to determine if this learning environment is right for your family.
Schedule smart. Be sure to make long trips efficient by planning several visits along the route. Make appointment calls at least two weeks in advance of your target visit date.
Ask questions to make the most of your visit. Encourage your teen to ask as many questions as possible--and ask different people the same questions to see if you get different answers.
Go beyond the official campus tour to get the "inside skinny" Official campus tours are a good place to start but, if any family members, friends, or recent graduates of your teen's school are enrolled, have coffee or meet with him or her. If your child is an athlete, musician, artist, or has another special interest, call in advance to arrange a meeting with the coach or other relevant faculty members.
Eat on campus. Most schools allow visitors to eat on campus; so do so in the dining hall or other on-campus establishments to give your son or daughter a firsthand "taste" of the school's food while also saving money. Likewise, if you need overnight lodging, consider allowing your offspring to stay in a dorm.
Create a photo diary. Believe it or not, once your family arrives home from your road trip, all of those campuses may start to blur together--especially if you visit numerous schools. Create an online folder for each or print out the photos and keep them in folders with other informational material you pick up on your visits.